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Fresh compost sickens school children

Police say fresh compost is the source of illness at a Carterton primary school last week. After it was dropped near campus, children began to fall ill within 20 minutes. 

Emergency services were called to the school at about 2.30pm on Friday with reports of an unpleasant smell and 10 ill children.

Photo: RNZ / Catherine Hutton

“Police spent a great deal of the time over the weekend searching the school, speaking to nearby residents and working with partner agencies to determine exactly what has occurred and when,” Wairarapa Area Commander Inspector Scott Miller says.

“We were able to rule out the involvement of a plane and establish that a compost delivery to a nearby property occurred more than an hour earlier than originally thought.

This fresh compost was dropped at the property, which backs onto the school playground, between 1 and 1.15pm on Friday. Children playing near the area fell ill about 1.20pm.

“Fresh compost, when hot, can omit a strong sulphur-like smell – this is part of the normal manufacturing process.

“Medical experts have advised that the children’s symptoms are consistent with inhaling compost fumes and long-term side effects are extremely unlikely. The compost has now been spread in a thin layer so there are no ongoing safety concerns.”

Police are working with the manufacturer to put some safety processes in place.

The vapour at the South End School prompted a full scale response from emergency services on Friday.

Students at the Wairarapa school described the smell as reminisent of “a rotting dead pig” or “like Rotorua”.

The school was put in lockdown on Friday afternoon. All 10 students who fell ill and were taken to hospital were discharged.

Wairarapa area commander Inspector Scott Miller said today the sulphuric smell came from the compost on a neighbouring property.

“I’d like to thank all those involved with both the initial response and the investigation over the last three days. The school, parents and caregivers, and emergency services took this incident very seriously and everything worked to plan,” Inspector Miller says.

“I’m pleased we could provide a resolution so quickly to help ensure the safety of our young people.”

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